One Way to Remember the World in Prayer

The date was 2009, shortly after I became President of Asbury Theological Seminary. I had my head bowed and my eyes closed trying to listen to the prayer being prayed by a student from the pulpit in Estes Chapel at Asbury. Like most Christians, I earnestly want to become a participant, a kind of co-pray-er with the one who was praying, so that I might capture a glimpse of God’s heart. However, the longer I listened the more I realized that something was amiss. The prayer was mostly focused on various vague impressions about ourselves – people under stress due to studies, those among us who might be sick, those who might be living with anxiety, etc. There is, of course, nothing wrong with praying for ourselves in this way, but if this is the focus of our prayers, something is wrong.

I discussed my impression with the Dean of the Chapel in those days, J. D. Walt. I remember saying to him, “If I was a visitor from another planet and I just descended into Estes Chapel, I would think that Jesus Christ was the tribal god of Wilmore, Kentucky, rather than the sovereign Lord of Glory, because I had not heard of any prayer or intercession or petition that had gone outside the boundaries of Wilmore, Kentucky. J.D. listened thoughtfully and then a smile came across his face. I had already learned that this smile meant that J. D. Walt had an idea!

About a week later I was involved in leading worship in the chapel. As I stepped up to the pulpit I looked down and saw these words handwritten on a small piece of paper in 40 point ALL CAPS magic marker font and taped to the pulpit:

“REMEMBER THE WORLD!”

I noticed this week, almost five years later, that this paper – with that amazing message – is still taped on the pulpit of Estes Chapel. I stood there looking at the message, remembering the smile on J. D. Walt’s face. But, then I had a deeper realization. I began to think back and how dramatic has been the change in the prayers going forth from Estes Chapel. Regularly, you hear our students crying out for a lost world, praying that wars cease to the ends of the earth, interceding for those trapped in human trafficking, pleading to God on behalf of those who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and on and on it goes, week after week.

If that same space visitor were to visit Estes Chapel today and take notes about who Jesus Christ is, he would certainly conclude that Jesus Christ must be the Lord of heaven and earth, the great sovereign over all. I don’t know what the prayers are like in your church, but it might be time to get out a piece of paper and a marker and write, REMEMBER THE WORLD! and tape it to the pulpit!

Homosexuality, the Death Penalty and the Old Testament. . .

I read with some interest the recent interchange between Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection, and Rob Renfroe, the President of Good News on homosexuality which appeared in the May/June issue of Good News magazine. Most of the exchange followed fairly predictable lines which one would expect. However, it was the final response by Hamilton that caught my attention. Hamilton closed his final response by pointing out the passage in Leviticus 20:13:

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death…”

Hamilton argues that both Renfroe and he are in agreement that the second part of the verse concerning stoning someone to death for a sin is culturally bound, since no Christian – even Renfroe – is advocating that homosexuals or anyone else be stoned to death. Therefore, the only difference between Renfroe and Hamilton, he concludes, is that Hamilton considers both parts of the verse to be culturally bound and not applicable for today, whereas Renfroe regards only the latter part of the verse to be culturally bound.

This blog is not about the issue of homosexuality, although that was the presenting issue between Hamilton and Renfroe. I am more interested in Hamilton’s exegetical method and how we read all kinds of passages like this in the Old Testament. First of all, it is a matter of the biblical record that the moral demands of the New Testament are higher than those of the Old Testament. If, for example, the act of adultery is regarded as “porneia” in the Old Testament, the very act of looking at a woman with lust is regarded as “porneia” in the New Testament (Matt. 5:27, 28). Many such examples could be given. Second, even if we put the first point aside, it is important to understand the reason the New Testament does not command Christians to stone sinners. It is not because of a relaxation of the moral demands of God, nor even, quite frankly, because of any relaxing of the consequences of sin.

On the contrary, the New Testament teaching is that we do not put sinners to death because Christ has already been put to death for every act of human sinfulness. It is in the face of Christ that we see the full extent of how God’s mercy meets God’s righteousness. It is not that “stoning” is culturally bound and therefore we can draw a red line through it. It is not because God has now relaxed the consequences of sin. Rather, it is that Jesus Christ has already borne the full penalty of our rebellion against God and neighbor on the cross. Just as we say, “Christ died for us” so we could also say, “Christ was stoned for us.”

To use the grace of God to nullify the judgment of God demonstrates a misunderstanding of the Christian gospel. When we try to take away or diminish the judgment of God we actually diminish the cross where Jesus bore the penalty we deserve. Leviticus 13, as with the whole of the Old Testament Law, is not vacated by Christian faith. Rather, it is fulfilled by Jesus Christ who said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18).

Why Did Jesus Christ Suffer and Die Upon the Cross?

The cross has become the central symbol of the Christian faith. It is truly amazing that such a symbol of torture devised by the Roman Empire to inflict cruel punishment on common criminals would become the most recognizable symbol of love and grace in the world. However, for God’s plan of redemption to be complete, it was not only necessary for Jesus to live and walk among us, but also that he die for the sins of the world. He had to become the perfect, sinless sacrifice which could atone for sins, once and for all.

To understand why his death on a cross was so important we must go all the way back to the dawn of creation when sin first entered the world. When Adam sinned, we immediately see three effects which rippled out from that first sin: fear, guilt, and shame. It is after the first sin that we discover that Adam was afraid, and filled with guilt and shame. He tried to hide from the presence of God because he felt shame and fear. It was, therefore, essential that the death of Jesus overturn every aspect of sin, including fear, guilt, and shame.

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What Was the Purpose of Jesus’ Life and Ministry?

The Gospels devote considerable time to telling us the story of the life of Jesus Christ. We find Jesus teaching the multitudes, training disciples, casting out demons, and proclaiming the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. But if we step back and look at the whole life of Jesus, we should see it as Jesus rewriting the history of the human race. Jesus is showing us how God designed life to be before it was distorted by sin and rebellion against God. The Scriptures tell us that Satan tried desperately to tempt Jesus, but at every point of assault, Jesus, unlike Adam, chose to obey God, to reject the forces of the rebellion, and to live without sin.

If we trust in Jesus Christ, then we participate in his obedience in the same way that we participated in Adam’s rebellion. When Jesus is tempted in the desert and declares that he will love the Lord God and serve him only, you are there with him in the desert learning how, in Christ, we can resist the devil and serve God. When Christ confronts the demonic world, exercising authority over the rebellion, you are there in Christ defeating the enemy. You are in Christ as he obeyed, just as you were once in Adam as he disobeyed! In every situation where the first Adam disobeyed, the second Adam obeyed. Whenever the first Adam said no to God, this Adam said yes. In Christ, the entire history of the human race is being rewritten, and now we can turn the clock back and get it right.

Continue reading on Seedbed.com . . .

Purchase my book 30 QuestionsA Short Catechism on the Christian Faith.